top of page

Game On - Toughen Up!

Some concepts bubble up again and again in the talent development process. I’ve spoken about the theme of “Game On!” a lot lately. This is the idea that it’s time to get real. Time to exercise the power you might not know you have. So how do you get there? Step One: Toughen Up!

Almost without exception, my executive coaching clients want to please. But the hard truth is: this instinct might be doing more harm than good. Sure, you want to cultivate goodwill, but not at the cost of overextending yourself or setting precedents that are unsustainable.

Maybe you tell yourself some nice stories:

· I’ll make up the difference later by winning more work.

· They will really appreciate the extra effort.

· They won’t like me if I don’t “go along to get along.”

But these stories you’re telling yourself aren’t true!

Sometimes, going “above and beyond” can be counterproductive. It’s very useful to have a sense of when to really push for a client’s satisfaction and when to push back. That’s where the mantra of “Toughen Up” comes in.

My client needs this. One very driven executive coaching client of mine always seemed to be stuck in the weeds. My first instinct was to help hone his time management skills, but then I noticed something else: he was working on solutions that had very little to do with his current project. Why was he spending his time on this stuff?

“Well, it’s not in our current scope, but I know the client needs this…so I’ll just get it done and move on.”

“What?! Tell me about this. You’re doing it because…why? Do you want to seem like a nice guy? Do you love to work for free? Is it in the contract?”

“Well, I know it’s important, but they don’t have it in the budget…”

“BS! Think about this client and this project – the size of it, the huge resources they have. Get real. You might be missing out on future contracts by doing out-of-scope work now. And if you work for free, your clients will get used to it, and just keep asking for more.”

My coachee breathed a sigh of relief, “Geez, I’m glad we talked. I’d fallen into my habit of just doing what needs to be done, but I see that it’s not whether I can do the work, but whether I should do it. Thank you!”

It’s an emergency. Another coachee came to me in the middle of a crisis. There was a system problem with a client’s integration. They’d lost tons of architectural drawings, documents, and data that they were still trying to recover. When I asked what had happened to the system, he couldn’t give me a clear answer. He also couldn’t tell me where the problem was, or whose responsibility it was.

I asked him what the contract specified. Um…there wasn’t a signed contract. It was still being negotiated. Whoa! I called a time-out. My advice?

Yes, there’s a real problem, but it’s not clear that it’s your problem if there’s no contract in place. The urgency of the situation could give you the leverage you need to get them to sign on the dotted line. Otherwise, step away!

These are excellent examples of empathy gone wrong. Just because you see what someone needs or wants doesn’t mean you have to fix it for them at your own expense. And whether it’s you or other members of your team doing the work for free, it’s not really yours to give. You’re not authorized to give away your company’s services. You might even be incurring liability by acting outside of an agreed-upon game plan.

So remember:

1. Are you giving your time away? Don’t be a sucker. Especially if it’s just you burning the midnight oil…you’ll thank me later!

2. Know your obligations – know the terms of the contract, know what’s plausible. Respect your commitments and understand what you are taking on.

3. Recognize that this is business! It’s time to Toughen Up.

13 views0 comments


bottom of page